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Fermilab Experiment Hints at New Fundamental Force of Nature

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Scientists working at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois have made some of the most important discoveries in physics over the years, including the existence of the top quark and characterizing the neutrino. Now, the team working on Fermilab’s Muon g−2 experiment has reported a tantalizing hint of a new type of physics, according to the BBC. If confirmed, this would become the fifth known fundamental force in the universe. 

Our current understanding of particle physics is called the Standard Model, which we know is an incomplete picture of the universe. Concepts like the Higgs boson and dark energy don’t fully integrate with the Standard Model, and the Muon g−2 might eventually help us understand why. The key to that breakthrough could be the behavior of the muon, a subatomic particle similar to an electron. The muon has a negative charge, but it’s much more massive. So, it spins like a magnet, which is what points to a possible new branch of physics. 

The roots of the Muon g−2 experiment go back to work done at CERN in the late 1950s. However, the instruments available at the time were too imprecise to accurately measure the “g-factor” of the muon, which describes its rate of gyration. The Standard Model predicts that muons wobble in a certain way, but the 14-meter magnetic accelerator at the heart of Muon g−2 shows that muons have a different g-factor. That might not sound significant, but even a tiny “anomalous magnetic dipole moment,” as scientists call it, could indicate something mysterious has affected the particles. 

The 600-ton g-2 magnet before installation.

We currently know of four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force (nuclear cohesion), and the weak force (radioactive decay). Whatever is causing muons to misbehave in Muon g−2 could be a fifth force, but we don’t know what it is. Even if the team can confirm the result, we won’t necessarily know what this new force of nature does aside from perturbing muons. That part will take much more work. Theoretical physicists have speculated that the new force could be associated with an undiscovered subatomic particle like the Z-prime boson or leptoquark. 

The current focus is on improving the precision of the experiment. The new result was reported with a statistical confidence of 4.1 sigma, which works out to a 1 in 40,000 chance that the results are just statistical noise. Traditionally, scientists want to see a 5 sigma confidence (about 1 in 3.5 million) before calling something confirmed. This is something physicists are going to be talking about a lot in the coming months.

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Shouts of ‘you’re killing him’ could have prompted Chauvin to reassess use of force, trainer testifies

Derek Chauvin could have potentially reassessed his actions when irate bystanders yelled at him that he should get off of George Floyd because he was “killing him,” a lieutenant who trains police officers in use-of-force techniques acknowledged on Tuesday.

Lt. Johnny Mercil, a Minneapolis police officer, was one of the officers who trained Chauvin in proper use-of-force techniques. He was also the latest in a series of senior officers with the force, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who have testified that Chauvin, with his knee pressed into Floyd’s neck during their confrontation on May 25, 2020, used excessive force and violated police procedure.

Chauvin, 45, who is white, faces two murder charges — second-degree unintentional murder and third-degree murder — in Floyd’s death. The 46-year-old Black man died after Chauvin pressed his knee against the back of Floyd’s neck for around nine minutes as other officers held him down. Chauvin’s trial is now in its second week. 

Use-of-force trainer testifies 

During cross examination, Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson, who has argued that police at the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd of onlookers, asked if Mercil agreed that a crowd jeering at police officers will raise alarms within the officers. Mercil agreed.

However, prosecutor Steve Schleicher quickly followed up with his own question about the bystanders, asking: “If they’re saying ‘Get off him, you’re killing him,’ should the officer also take that into account and consider whether their actions need to be reassessed?”

“Potentially, yes,” Mercil said.

Earlier, Mercil was asked more specifically about the use-of-force procedures and how they relate to this specific case.

Knee to neck not part of training

He was shown a picture of Chauvin with his knee pressed into Floyd’s neck. Schleicher asked Mercil if that restraint was part of the training at the Minneapolis Police Department.

“No sir,” he said.

Mercil said a knee on the neck is an authorized use of force, but that officers are told to stay away from the neck if possible. Schleicher asked Mercil how long such a technique should be used if an officer were to employ it. 

Mercil said it would depend on the resistance being offered.

“Say, for example, the subject was under control and handcuffed — would this be authorized?” Schleicher asked.

“I would say no,” Mercil said.

Defence attorney Eric Nelson, left, and Chauvin are seen in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

Video captured by a bystander showed the handcuffed Floyd repeatedly say he couldn’t breathe. 

Floyd had been detained outside a convenience store after being suspected of paying with a counterfeit bill. All four officers were later fired. The footage of the arrest prompted widespread outrage, setting off protests across the U.S. and around the world.

The prosecution says Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as he lay handcuffed on the pavement was the cause of his death. But the defence argues Chauvin did what his training taught him and that it was a combination of Floyd’s underlying medical conditions, drug use and adrenaline flowing through his system that ultimately killed him.

Records show that Chauvin was trained in the use of force by the police department in October 2018.   

On Tuesday, Mercil also told Hennepin County District Court that police should try to put a suspect in the “recover” position, sit them up or stand them up, as soon as possible to decrease the risk that they might have difficulty breathing while on their stomachs.

‘I would say it’s time to de-escalate the force’

Under cross-examination by Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, Mercil acknowledged that, in his experience, there have been times when suspects he was in the process of detaining were lying about having a medical emergency.

Mercil also testified that circumstances can change minute to minute; that a suspect can go from being compliant and peaceful to violent, and he agreed that all of those considerations play a part in the use of force.

He also said there have been times when an unconscious suspect regained consciousness.

Mercil also acknowledged that just because a person is handcuffed, doesn’t mean the suspect is in control, and that he has trained officers to restrain suspects as “long as they needed to hold them.”

But Schleicher then asked Mercil whether it’s inappropriate to hold a suspect in a position where the officer’s knee is across their back or neck once the person is under control and no longer resistant.

“I would say it’s time to de-escalate the force.”

“And get off of them,” Schleicher said.

“Yes sir,” Mercil said.

Mercil agreed that if an officer is placing body weight with the knee on a person’s neck and back it would decrease the person’s ability to breathe. He also agreed that it would be inappropriate to restrain someone in that way after they had lost their pulse. 

Mercil was asked if there was ever a time when an individual lost their pulse, suddenly came “back to life” and became more resistant. 

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said.

Witness Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant and expert in use-of-force techniques, testifies at Chauvin’s murder trial. (COURT TV/Associated Press)

Use of force ‘was excessive’: expert

In other testimony, Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant serving as a prosecution use-of-force expert, said officers were justified in using force while Floyd was resisting their efforts to put him in a squad car.

But once Floyd was on the ground and had stopped resisting, Stiger said officers “should have slowed down or stopped their force as well.”

Stiger said that after reviewing video of the arrest, “my opinion was that the force was excessive.”

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The US Air Force Quietly Admits the F-35 Is a Failure

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The Air Force has announced a new study into the tactical aviation requirements of future aircraft, dubbed TacAir. In the process of doing so, Air Force chief of staff General Charles Q. Brown finally admitted what’s been obvious for years: The F-35 program has failed to achieve its goals. There is, at this point, little reason to believe it will ever succeed.

According to Brown, the USAF doesn’t just need the NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) fighter, a sixth-generation aircraft — it also needs a new, “5th-generation minus / 4.5th-generation aircraft.” Brown acknowledged some recent issues with the F-35 and suggested one potential solution was to fly the plane less often.

“I want to moderate how much we’re using those aircraft,” the general said. “You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our high end, we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight… We don’t want to burn up capability now and wish we had it later.”

Ferrari Would Not Consider This Comparison a Compliment

These statements may not seem provocative, but they represent a huge shift in the Air Force’s stance regarding the F-35. The F-35 originated from what was originally known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, a multi-national development effort between the United States, the UK, and multiple other partner nations. The explicit purpose of the JSF program was to create a single aircraft that could replace a wide range of air, ground, and strike fighter capabilities. Today, the F-35 exists in three variants. The F-35A provides conventional takeoff/landing and is operated by the USAF, the F-35B provides short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STVOL) capabilities for the US Marines, and the F-35C is designed for carrier operations and is operated by the US Navy.

The DoD and Lockheed-Martin have spent years painting the F-35 as a flexible, multi-role aircraft capable of outperforming a range of older planes. The rhetoric worked. The F-22 Raptor, F/A-18 Hornet, and several jets in the Harrier family were retired because the F-35 was supposed to replace them. The Air Force fought to replace the beloved A-10 Warthog with the F-35 on the grounds that the latter was, somehow, a superior replacement.

A-10 battle damage

This jet flew home. The F-35 has not proven itself to be equivalently robust. Credit: USAF

The F-16 was supposed to be replaced by the F-35. Back in 2010, Lockheed expected the F-35 to replace the F-15C/D variants as well as the F-15E Strike Eagle. That’s six different aircraft covering all three roles (air-to-air, strike, and ground). The F-35 was explicitly developed and designed to be a flexible, effective, and relatively affordable aircraft with sophisticated logistics management systems that would reduce downtime and boost reliability.

This aircraft wasn’t supposed to be a Ferrari. It was billed, explicitly, loudly, and repeatedly, as the single platform that could fill any mission requirement and satisfy virtually any mission profile outside of something a B-52 might handle. Instead, the Air Force, Marines, and Navy have all adjusted plans at various times to keep older aircraft in service due to delays and problems with the F-35.

To say the F-35 has failed to deliver on its goals would be an understatement. Its mission capable rate is 69 percent, below the 80 percent benchmark set by the military. 36 percent of the F-35 fleet is available for any required mission, well below the required 50 percent standard. Current and ongoing problems include faster than expected engine wear, transparency delamination of the cockpit, and unspecified problems with the F-35’s power module. The General Accountability Office (GAO) has blamed some of this on spare parts shortages, writing:

[T]he F-35 supply chain does not have enough spare parts available to keep aircraft flying enough of the time necessary to meet warfighter requirements. “Several factors contributed to these parts shortages, including F-35 parts breaking more often than expected, and DOD’s limited capability to repair parts when they break.

There have been so many problems with the F-35, it’s difficult even to summarize them. Pilot blackouts, premature part failures, software development disasters, and more have all figured in various documents over the years. Firing the main gun can crack the plane. The Air Force has already moved to buy new F-15EX aircraft. Multiple partner nations that once promised F-35 buys have shifted orders to other planes. The USAF continues to insist it will purchase 1,763 aircraft, but the odds of it doing so are increasingly dubious. The F-15EX costs an estimated $ 20,000 per hour to fly. The F-35 runs $ 44,000. Lockheed-Martin has promised to bring that cost down to $ 25,000, but it’s been promising that for years. Former Air Force pilots have not been kind in their recent evaluations of the aircraft’s performance and capabilities.

Brown indicated he’s not interested in buying more F-16s, because not even the most advanced variants have the full scope of features the USAF hopes to acquire. This would presumably also disqualify the “F-21” Lockheed-Martin recently announced for the Indian market. Instead, Brown wants to develop a new fighter with fresh ideas on implementing proven technologies.

Congress will have a voice in this discussion, so it’s far from a done deal, but after over a decade mired in failure, someone at the DoD is willing, however quietly, to acknowledge that the F-35 will never perform the role it was supposed to play. As for how much it’ll actually cost to build that 4.5th-generation fighter, all I’ll say is this: The F-35 was pitched to Congress and the world as a way of saving money. Today, the lifetime cost of the aircraft program, including R&D, is estimated to be over $ 1.5 trillion. The price of a supposedly cheaper 4.5-generation plane could easily match or exceed the F-35’s flyaway cost by the time all is said and done, though hopefully any future aircraft would still manage to offer a much lower cost per hour.

Feature Image by Staff Sgt Joely Santiago, USAF

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‘We did the best we could’ — a conversation with the co-chair of Canada’s vaccine task force

Dr. Joanne Langley is a pediatric infectious disease physician and a professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University. Since last spring, she also has been co-chair of the task force that has been advising the federal government on COVID-19 vaccine procurement.

Interruptions in deliveries of vaccine doses to Canada have led to a tense debate about the Liberal government’s handling of the issue. Langley has been invited to speak the health and industry committees of the House of Commons later this month, but she spoke to CBC News this week about her role and how she sees Canada’s situation.

Langley says task force members were assembled by the federal government in late May and early June of last year. The task force then began to evaluate the scientific, technical and logistical merits of potential vaccine suppliers.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Who are the candidates at that point?

A: So there were two strains. There was domestic and international. For the domestic, ISED [Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada] put out a call to any company for Strategic Innovation Fund [SIF] proposals. So there were, I think, 22 submissions to SIF from Canadian sites. And so we reviewed all of those. That was how we knew what was the potential in Canada.

We also did a more proactive review, and there was a vendor that went and basically tracked down every single company in Canada that had anything to do with vaccines, drugs, biologics, and looked at what their capacity was. We reviewed all those under this rubric. We had meetings with the proponents. ISED did due diligence on them.

We had particular questions that we would want answered. And then we made recommendations to ministers about those products. And we only speak about the ones that received funding because if they didn’t receive funding for their own benefit, those are confidential.

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich. (Morry Gash/Pool via AP Photo)

And then internationally, what we did was basically track down around the world what vaccines were in what phase. So the WHO [World Health Organization] quite early on started tracking every single vaccine and what phase it was in. And so we reviewed those proponents and determined what [were] the most likely ones that were going to deliver a vaccine in 2021 — at that time, I don’t think we thought we’d have a vaccine by December of 2020.

And then we reached out to them and had meetings with them again and asked some questions in order to satisfy ourselves that they had scientific and technical merit, and also inquired about opportunities for partnering with Canadian universities or businesses or governmental scientists, or any possibility of bringing something here to Canada, rather than just buying the product …

Q: And was it the task force that came up with this approach of diversifying Canada’s purchases and going to seven different suppliers?

A: Yes, we recommended a portfolio. And there’s a number of different platforms. All of the vaccines we recommended fell into one of three platforms.

Q: A lot of attention is now on this question of domestic capacity and domestic manufacturing. Can you explain why … we didn’t end up with domestic manufacturing of vaccines?

A: I think we are going to have domestic bio-manufacturing of vaccines. So Medicago will ultimately be on Canadian soil. Novavax is another one. There are other announcements that will, I’m sure, be made in the coming weeks. But there is quite a strong bio-manufacturing strategy that has been determined and will unfold.

A volunteer participates in Medicago’s Phase I clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Quebec City. (CNW Group/Medicago) (CNW Group/Medicago)

Q: The question that seems to get posed is, why don’t we have domestic manufacturing up and running right now? Why didn’t we pursue some kind of domestic manufacturing that would be up and running right now?

A: Okay, so that would be over a period of, say, August until now, about six months. The NRC [National Research Council] buildout started in the fall. So it started within months of these task forces being built.

These are not manufacturing processes that can be built in a month or two, or three or four or five or six, even. Some of them have to be explosion-proof. Some rooms have to be sterile. You have to have the highly qualified personnel who can do the tech transfer, who can receive the training and then demonstrate that they can produce the vaccine. These are processes that are very, very meticulous and have extremely high standards. And Health Canada, the regulator, is testing the batches that you’re producing.

These are biologics processes. If you had a farmer growing something in a field, you can’t just say, ‘Well, could you just grow that faster, please?’– Dr. Joanne Langley

So to get that kind of whole process of building a plant, getting the machinery in place, getting the highly qualified personnel to make the vaccine and then scale it up, fill and finish it and deliver it out and pass regulatory approval — that wouldn’t be able to be done in the period from, you know, August to January. But the NRC proposal was ultimately approved and they have started. The Medicago plant was already starting to be built at the beginning of the pandemic, so they just continued that.

I think the overall story is that there was effort put towards bio-manufacturing. It’s not something that happens on the turn of a dime. And my colleague Alan Bernstein had a very good kind of simile … Say that you were invited to dinner and you spent the entire day making this dinner for your two friends and you salted it perfectly and the right amount of turmeric, all these things. You know, it was in the oven for three minutes, not four, and after the meal, they say, “OK, this is just perfect. Can you make exactly the same thing for a thousand people two days from now?”

You know, these are biologics processes. If you had a farmer growing something in a field, you can’t just say, “Well, could you just grow that faster, please?” It’s not realistic to think that you could in a month or two have one of these huge bio-manufacturing plants up and running.

Q: One of the examples that gets cited is the United Kingdom, and the question of whether Canada could have expanded capacity or set up capacity as fast as they seem to have. Does that seem like a realistic possibility to you?

A: Well, the presumption there is that the U.K. didn’t have capacity. They already had several manufacturing plants for international vaccines. So it’s not true that they started from zero. That is really one of the myths that is circulating. They did accelerate what they were doing and they added capacity, but they already were producing huge amounts of vaccines.

Audrey Elson, 84, leaves with her daughter after receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at Lichfield Cathedral, in Staffordshire, England, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (Jacon King/PA via AP Photo)

A: In hindsight, is it possible that if the task force had gotten started even earlier … in March or February or January of last year, that Canada would be in a different place right now?

A: I suppose anything’s possible. It’s hard to say. I think we worked as hard as we could at the time we started our work together. I think someone tallied up and we had like 400 hours worth of meetings in the first few weeks because there was just such a sense of urgency.

And I really can’t speak to what is really kind of imaginary, to think of what might have happened had we met earlier. There certainly wouldn’t have been any data to review if we’d started in March because the first vaccine was the Moderna and they started [Phase I trials in March].

Certainly there was no idea that it was going to be our Canadian vaccine. It was just one of many international candidates …– Dr. Langley on the CanSino project

Q: One of the other things that’s been given a lot of attention is the CanSino project. Was that a significant setback for Canada? In addition to obviously falling through, did it distract or detract from the larger effort to get a vaccine?

A: My personal view would be that it was one of the vaccines that was evaluated, just like all the other international candidates. It wasn’t higher on the priority list. Every potential vaccine candidate was reviewed. So it wasn’t — certainly there was no idea that it was going to be our Canadian vaccine. It was just one of many international candidates that we looked at with scrutiny.

Q: In the last little while, a couple of companies have come forward and said, “We could help, or we could have helped.” Providence being one, PnuVax being the other. Is it possible to say why you didn’t recommend going with those options?

A: So as I said, anyone who submitted a request to the SIF Fund, if they were funded, then that information is public. But some of the information is confidential. And some of those people that proposed applications to ISED — I can’t say things about them that are confidential. So we only speak of the ones that were highly ranked and that were funded ultimately.

Q: Is it possible to say what was decisive about the domestic ones that you did go with?

A: I would say it’s multi-factorial. So really, they had to tick off a lot of boxes of having a good product that in all the data that they presented to us looked like it would be effective against the virus, that would induce an immune response, that would be safe for the host. That they had the experience with clinical development of vaccines or could benefit by partnering very quickly with other people who had that capacity that could scale up their product. That they were a financially stable company. And all of those things were looked at.

We wouldn’t have taken something that could scale but that wasn’t safe and effective, or that was safe and effective but there was no chance that you could make that vaccine in sufficient quantity. So really, all of those aspects were considered for every vaccine.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Q: Procurement Minister Anita Anand has said that she went to the international suppliers that the government ended up signing contracts with and asked whether they would be interested in domestic manufacturing in Canada and that, in every case, they essentially said it wasn’t possible. Should that surprise us?

A: What the minister has said … is consistent with that strategy, that we would look for that in every instance, to see where we could partner with Canadian scientists or businesses or could they even just fill and finish on our soil.

So there are many considerations for these vaccine companies. Ultimately, they have a responsibility to deliver a product and they have timelines they must abide by. They’re making vaccines — ultimately, most of them — for one or two billion people.

So there is a lot of effort if you don’t have a plant all ready to go that could produce that volume of vaccines that you need to consider when you’re thinking, “Should I make this partnering agreement?” So all those things would be considered by those companies and, ultimately, they may have already had agreements or they may want to use their own plant.

We had many good discussions about that. And ultimately, one is a possibility. And who knows, there may be more in the future. The story’s not completely written yet.

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Q: I don’t know if this has even been suggested, but just to throw it out there — was it ever considered whether we could have somehow gotten involved with the U.S. initiative Operation Warp Speed?

A: I think one would have to consider whether at the time of the previous administration, there would be interest in partnering with other countries to make vaccines for Canadians.

Q: Can you say whether it was considered?

A: We looked at everything. We met with task forces in the U.K. and New Zealand, Australia, just to share ideas. We also met with some folks from Germany. So our thinking was not boxed in. We were being very creative, as were the ministries who were helping us, trying to create opportunities and do things in a new way. So I would say there was hardly anything that wasn’t considered.

Q: In the latest rankings, we were something like [39th] in vaccinations per capita. How should Canadians feel about that? Is there an explanation in your mind for why we’re at where we’re at?

A: So the immunization rollout is a provincial-territorial responsibility. I think at this point they’ve probably delivered all the vaccines that are available. But some provinces are holding back the second dose so that they make sure everyone gets their doses according to schedule, which is perfectly rational. And so I think we will be getting more vaccines.

We sometimes have to wait and be patient. But making a fuss about it does not solve the problem. And making demands doesn’t solve the problem.– Dr. Langley on vaccine delivery disruptions

It’s not unanticipated that there would be stoppages to vaccine supply. For those of us that have been working in vaccine science for two decades, that is routine because these are biologic processes. The general public may be used to, well — we’re ordering cars, why can’t you just put the wheels on and the engine and what’s the delay? It is very different for vaccines and for all biologics.

So I’m not surprised that there were interruptions to the supply chain. I am assured that everyone who’s manufacturing a vaccine at this time is working 24/7 to get them out as soon as possible. So when there’s supply chain problems, my approach would be, “Okay, find out what the problem is.” And then we sometimes have to wait and be patient. But making a fuss about it does not solve the problem. And making demands doesn’t solve the problem.

Q: But Canadians may ask, “Why do we seem to have fewer vaccines than a lot of European countries? Why do we seem to be behind so many countries?” Do you have an explanation for that?

A: I would say it’s probably just due to the schedule of when the shipping occurs and the timing of it. So there’s so many multilateral contracts, plus the COVAX contracts [and] every single country’s shipping time is something that’s usually kept confidential. They don’t publish those.

And also, if you have a smaller country with a smaller jurisdiction, with a smaller geographic area, you can deploy the vaccines you get much more quickly than we can in Canada, obviously, because our population is dispersed among rural and urban locations. It’s easier to deliver vaccines when everyone’s concentrated in the same geographical area.

Q: But would you then argue that this place that Canada is in right now was sort of unavoidable?

A: I would say that there’s [nearly] 200 countries in the world and everyone deserves vaccines. And I don’t think we should be putting so much attention on who gets them first and second and third. The production line is pumping out vaccines. We will get them in due time. And at the same time that people are pointing out, “Well … that’s terrible,” other people are saying … “Why don’t we expand our view beyond our own borders to the peoples of the world who need vaccines?”

Just be content for a little bit that we are going to get enough vaccines for all Canadians by September and worry less about are we getting them today or tomorrow, and do your best to get through this pandemic without spreading disease until you get the opportunity to have a vaccine. Because right now, many people in the world do not have that opportunity to look forward to.

Q: In hindsight, do you think there was anything you, the task force, could have done differently?

A: I don’t think so. There was a lot of learning along the way. I mean, we adapted as we went. We had a process of consultation that was really marvellous, where all views are entertained. And you don’t go into the discussion with a set point of view. You may have a completely different point of view after the consultation, which was wonderful because we’re all in such different areas, we can see different aspects of each issue. We’ll continue to do that.

You know, science is changing, the evidence is changing, the portfolio might need to change, but we’re committed to doing that change. Nothing is written in stone because we know that new information might emerge. And so, I think if you have that learning attitude, you can’t really look back and say, “Well, why didn’t we do this?” We did the best we could with the information that was available.

Q: Because I’m sure you’ve noticed there is a lot of angst about the fact that Canada is not doing better. And it feels like there’s a searching for — well, there must have been something Canada could have done differently to acquire quicker or more plentiful vaccines. Does it feel to you like there’s not an obvious alternative?

It’s very difficult for any one country to solve the problem of vaccines — even the U.S., who threw so much money at this, requires supply chains from other countries.– Dr. Langley on vaccine production

A: I mean, my alternative is quite an optimistic one. And it would be a world where we looked at these issues globally. So what we had to do for this pandemic is try and figure out a solution on the spot and try and create alliances to solve problems because all countries are really interdependent.

It’s very difficult for any one country to solve the problem of vaccines — even the U.S., who threw so much money at this, requires supply chains from other countries. So if on a global level the World Health Organization or some other international agency was able to secure bio-manufacturing at the start of a pandemic plan to make 14 billion doses of vaccines — if it was a two-dose schedule — I think that could have accelerated it rather than people in each country, all 200 of us, trying to figure out how we’re going to get vaccines.

If you look at climate change, it’s the Paris Accord where everyone makes a commitment to address the problem in a way that you’ve all agreed is scientifically and socially the best path forward — then you’re more likely to solve climate change. But each country on their own cannot solve climate change. Smallpox was solved because we took a global approach everywhere. The whole world agreed to have a particular strategy for smallpox elimination. And they did that country by country by country, and we eliminated smallpox.

So that would be my answer to the question of what could we have done better. I think it’s coming. I mean, COVAX is something like that. It’s not quite there, but it’s on the path to a global approach to these issues that threaten us all.

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Pandemic may force Canadian men to play home World Cup qualifiers at neutral sites

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani says Canada will likely have to play its first home World Cup qualifying matches at a neutral site due to pandemic-related restrictions.

Border issues and the need for quarantine complicate a qualifying schedule that has already been pushed back several times due to COVID-19. The Canadian men are slated to pay their first home qualifying match in late March.

“Listen, it’s not going to be as easy as it was before, when you just got on a plane and you play or you play at home,” Montagliani told reporters Wednesday. “Obviously no fans for probably the vast majority of these games, if not all of them. There’ll be neutral venues for some of them. Canada, I would think, would be a neutral venue. Although it would be a home game, it would still be a neutral venue.

“It’s World Cup qualifying so it’s the responsibility of each federation to sort their things out. It’s not really a CONCACAF event. However, having said that, we’re helping and facilitating as much as possible to help our federations from a logistical standpoint to ensure that March goes off as smoothly as possible.”

Montagliani doubles as a FIFA vice-president and is a former president of the Canadian Soccer Association.

Canada Soccer said it “continues to work with the PHAC (Public Health Agency of Canada) and provincial medical authorities to establish the best venue and safest environment for upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”

Montagliani says CONCACAF can use intel gained from the experiences of other confederations to help with the staging of the games. Canada has also just held a national team camp in a bubble in Bradenton, Fla.

Must win group to advance

The top five sides in the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, skip the first two qualifying rounds and go directly to the final round-robin stage.

The other 30, including 72nd-ranked Canada, will battle it out to see which three join No. 9 Mexico, the 22nd-ranked Americans, No. 47 Jamaica, No. 51 Costa Rica and No. 64 Honduras.

Canada is scheduled to open its qualifying campaign March 25 in Group B play at home to No. 169 Bermuda, the first of a possible 20 matches the Canadian men will have to play if they are to book their ticket to Qatar in 2022.

The Canadians then play March 28 at the 193rd-ranked Cayman Islands and June 5 at No. 200 Aruba before wrapping up first-round play June 8 at home to No. 141 Suriname.

Canada needs to win its group to advance to the second round of qualifying.

Should Canada survive the first round, it will open the second round June 12 at the Group E winner before hosting the rematch on June 15.

The Canadian men, who are co-hosting the 2026 World Cup along with Mexico and the U.S., have only ever qualified for one World Cup — 1986 in Mexico where they exited after failing to score in losses to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.

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Donald Trump leaves office as a diminished force in the Republican Party

Donald Trump could have spent his final weeks in office boasting about his Republican administration’s achievements and trying to solidify his status as the most significant voice in the party and possible front-runner for the presidential nomination in four years.

Instead, the 45th president of the United States focused on fuelling conspiracy theories in a futile attempt to overturn his loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

In doing so, he departed the White House on Wednesday still under the cloud of his supporters’ riot in the Capitol building. He returns to private life as the only president to have been impeached twice, and with some senior members of a now significantly divided Republican Party seemingly turning their backs on him. 

“It was just an unmitigated disaster of missed opportunities and terrible judgment,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

He said Trump had an opportunity to spend these past weeks becoming the most successful lame duck president in history, by helping with coronavirus relief negotiations and supporting a defence policy that included raises for troops.

But Trump didn’t play a constructive role in either file, he said.

Missed opportunity in Georgia Senate races

Trump could have also tried to help Republicans win the two Senate run-off races in Georgia earlier this month instead of sabotaging the campaigns by casting doubt on the electoral process with unfounded fraud allegations, Jennings said. The Republicans ended up losing both run-offs and control of the Senate. 

“And, of course, he could have decided not to incite a violent insurrection at the U.S Capitol,” Jennings said, referring to the article of impeachment against Trump that is expected to go to the Senate for a trial. “When you consider all of the things that he could have done, it could have been a lot different for him.”

Trump’s behaviour was particularly counterproductive if you consider that he clearly wants to continue being involved in politics, Jennings said.

“Everything he did in the lame duck period drastically diminished that possibility.”

Had Trump conceded the election back in November, he may have been remembered as a disruptive but consequential president, said Matthew Connetti, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C.

For Republicans, the Trump administration’s list of achievements would include tax cuts; deregulation; brokering diplomatic deals in the Middle East; and, perhaps most importantly, the appointment of many conservative judges, including three Supreme Court justices.

“He would have been the undisputed front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination. But that’s not how things turned out,” Connetti said in an email to CBC News.

Impeachment trial looms

Although he is out of office, Trump faces the possibility of an impeachment trial and conviction in the Senate and a vote to bar him from running for office again.

“Trump’s refusal to concede, his increasingly desperate and dangerous attempts to overturn the election, his incitement of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and his decision not to welcome Joe Biden to the White House or to attend Biden’s inauguration nullified a record of policy accomplishments,” Connetti said.

Trump briefly stopped to speak with reporters before walking with wife Melania to board Marine One on the south lawn of the White House on Wednesday. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Trump still has a large base of support within the Republican Party and among the conservative grassroots. Millions of his supporters agree with the baseless claims that the presidential election was rigged and stolen. Still, there are clear signs Trump’s power within the party has diminished since the riot in the Capitol.

At his departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, only about 300 people were in attendance. His guests included his family, outgoing White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and other current and former aides, the Washington Post reported.

But there were notable absences among top-ranking Republican officials. McConnell, who has been openly critical of Trump’s role in the U.S. Capitol riot, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were no-shows, having opted to attend church with Biden before heading over to the inauguration.

Perhaps the most significant absence was that of Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, who also attended Biden’s inauguration. (Pence’s spokespeople had previously said logistical issues would prevent him from attending both events.)

Trump had blamed Pence for refusing to block congressional certification of the electoral college votes on Jan. 6 — a power Pence never actually had at his disposal. 

The New York Times reported that aides had tried to get more officials to come to Trump’s departure, but many were still upset over his post-election behaviour and how it overshadowed the administration’s achievements.

Some of his aides who had been with him the longest said they did not even watch the send-off on television, the paper reported.

WATCH | Trump delivers his final address as president:

U.S. President Donald Trump formally left the White House after a struggle to hang on to office by trying to overturn the results of a democratic election. 2:13

At the national level, the Republican Party is now split in two, said Michael Cornfield, a political scientist at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.

“And the traditional Republican Party went to [the inauguration]. But the loyalists came with him to the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base.

Connetti said there will always be a segment of the population that continues to believe Donald Trump was a great president.

“But it is a minority,” he said, “and now the Republican Party, as a result of Trump’s actions since November, is in a state of civil war.”

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Messi faces lengthy suspension for ‘excessive force’ against Athletic Bilbao opponent

After losing the Spanish Super Cup final, Barcelona is also in danger of losing Lionel Messi for an extended period after he hit an opponent toward the end of the match.

Messi could be suspended for up to 12 games for the red card he received in the final minutes of his team’s 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao in Seville on Sunday.

After passing the ball out to the left flank, Messi swung his right arm toward the head of Athletic forward Asier Villalibre as they ran forward toward the box. Villalibre immediately fell to the ground and Messi was given his first red card in 753 appearances for Barcelona.

Referee Gil Manzano said in his match report that Messi hit his opponent with “excessive force” while the ball was not near him.

The Spanish soccer federation’s competitions committee will decide on the charges against Messi, and the player’s eventual suspension could range from one to three matches or from four to 12 matches, depending on how severe the federation considers the incident.

Barcelona was already preparing its defence regardless of the charges that would be presented by the federation against its player.

If found guilty, Messi will be suspended for matches in the Spanish league or the Copa del Rey. Barcelona is in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey and trails Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the league.

Title drought

Messi was visibly frustrated as the match went on and Barcelona struggled to recover from its deficit against Athletic. The Catalan club twice relinquished leads, including conceding a 90th-minute equalizer scored by Villalibre. Antoine Griezmann scored both Barcelona goals, with Messi assisting in the first one.

The defeat cost Barcelona a chance to end a title drought that has lingered from last season, the club’s first without a title since 2007-08.

While it was Messi’s first red card for his club, he has been sent off twice while playing for Argentina’s national team, including a few seconds into his debut in a friendly against Hungary in 2005. The other time was in the 2019 Copa America in a match against Chile. He was also sent off once while playing for Barcelona’s “B” team.

Messi, who asked to leave the club in the off-season but had his request denied, is having an average season compared to previous years, having scored 14 goals in 22 matches with Barcelona. He was far from his best on Sunday despite helping set up the team’s first goal.

Messi had been doubtful to play in the final because of an unspecified fitness issue that had caused coach Ronald Koeman to leave him out of the semifinal against Real Sociedad on Wednesday, when Barcelona prevailed in a penalty shootout.

Barcelona’s next match is on Thursday at Cornella in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey.

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Written off after Olympic disappointment, Paula Findlay re-emerges as a force

In the life of a high-performance Canadian athlete there is a small window, usually once every four years at the Olympics, when the spotlight shines down and the eyes of a nation are squarely fixed on you.

For Edmonton’s Paula Findlay, a medal contender at the 2012 London Games in the triathlon event, her moment had arrived.

Findlay, after all, had taken the triathlon world by storm early in her career, seeing her catapult to the top of the rankings for much of 2010 and 2011.

But Aug. 4, 2012 in London turned out to be somewhat of a nightmare for Findlay.

Those gut-wrenching images — Findlay in tears, making her way to the finish line. With the crowd roaring Findlay ran towards the end, collapsing over and sobbing after completing the event.

She was in line for a medal but finished last, plagued by injury leading up to the event.

“I’m sorry. I really feel like I need to apologize to everybody,” she said, fighting back tears moments after finishing the race.

“I feel terrible. I had nothing. It’s the Olympics Games and it’s my first time here and it’s overwhelming. I finished. I really wanted to stop. It was a huge mental struggle just to get to the finish line.”

And then, like most athletes who compete in those less high-profile sports, Findlay somewhat disappeared from the limelight.

WATCH | Emotional Paula Findlay on last-place finish at Olympics:

Paula Findlay’s post-race interview after the triathlon at the 2012 London Olympics was heartbreaking, as she apologized for her finish. 2:19

Redemptive power of sport

But on a brilliantly sunny Sunday at Florida’s Daytona International Speedway in early December some eight years after that catastrophic Olympic finish, Findlay emerged a champion yet again.

The redemptive power of sport.

Compare the agony of finishing last at the Olympics to the joy she exuded as she soared towards the finish line to capture the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) 2020 Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla. — also winning a cool $ 100,000 US.

A beaming smile with Findlay back on top.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in. It’s been a whirlwind. I wasn’t expecting to race that well. It’s kind of reminiscent of 2010 when I had all these great race results and was flooded with messages,” she told CBC Sports.

Findlay prepares for the start of the Women’s Triathlon at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

The messages haven’t stopped pouring in, including from Olympic triathlon champion Simon Whitfield.

“It’s been a while since this has happened for me and I don’t take it for granted.”

The thing is, while the bright lights of the media went away and many Canadians really didn’t hear about Findlay after 2012, she has been competing — she didn’t let the disappointment of that Olympic experience define the rest of her career.

“I guess I’ve been written off a little bit over the years but showed I still have a little bit in me,” she said.

“I’m pretty good at forging ahead and that’s why I’m still racing. Even right after the Olympics in London I was ready to keep racing. I hadn’t quit the sport. I’ve been racing. Never big enough to get attention from the media. It appears I’ve been gone but I’ve been racing.”

Faster and stronger

At 31, Findlay is running faster, swimming stronger and biking the best she ever has. Obviously the pandemic threw a wrench into her training over the past year, including not getting into a pool for six months. But the time away allowed Findlay to refocus and recharge.

It paid off and she cashed in.

“To have a top result now, I appreciate it so much more,” Findlay said. “I’m obviously a lot older now and I’m a better place in my life.”

The natural question then after a performance like this is what it means for the Tokyo Olympics.

That’s where things get a tad complicated for Findlay.

“It’s interesting now, everyone is asking me if I’m going to Tokyo. It’s out of my hands. I would love to go,” she said.

“I think I could qualify if it was just based on who the fastest person was right now but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Findlay, pictured competing in Utah in 2019, is biking at top form. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Findlay has cut ties with Triathlon Canada. She doesn’t really want to get into the finer details of it but the tone in her voice suggests a heavy amount of politics are involved with making the team and being able to represent Canada at the Olympics.

“I don’t want to get much into this but I don’t have a relationship with Triathlon Canada right now. It’s probably not going to happen because of the way it is,” she said.

“If Triathlon Canada called me tomorrow and told me I could be on the start line in Tokyo without jumping through a million hoops, I would love to.”

No Rio Games

Findlay had wanted to compete for Canada at the Rio Games and was seemingly in line to do so. However, Triathlon Canada did not select her to compete.

“I tried to go to the Rio Olympics in 2016 and trained with that in mind and that was my goal. I didn’t make the Olympics team that year,” she said.

“It just made me realize how challenging it is to have your fate in someone else’s hands. The selection was out of my control.”

For its part, Triathlon Canada High Performance Director, Eugene Liang, says Findlay is in good standing with the national sport body and is “eligible for her International Competition Card for pro events.”

Liang says that to be eligible to compete at the Olympic Games, all athletes from all countries have to meet eligibility and qualification as defined by World Triathlon (formerly International Triathlon Union) and the IOC.

“From there, athletes must meet their published nomination policies [which comply with all legal requirements set forth by World Triathlon and IOC]. The nomination policy for the Olympics has been public for two years.  Within that timeframe all athletes are provided equal opportunity to meet nomination,” he said.

Liang says the systems in play are designed to ensure unbiased and transparent nomination criteria for all athletes, in Canada and around the world, so they can pursue qualifying for the Olympics should they choose to go that path.

“The last time Paula raced a World Triathlon event that counted towards ranking and eligibility was 2017 as she decided to pursue her pro career and long-distance racing at that time,” Liang added.

Finally, Liang says “Triathlon Canada is extremely happy to see Paula Findlay’s continued success and growth as an athlete.”

“Of course we were happy for her to see her on top of the podium at Challenge Daytona,” he said.

“But it is important to note that she has been provided the same opportunity within the published criterias as every other athlete in the Canadian system to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games.”

As for why Findlay was left off the 2016 team, Liang says while this was before Triathlon Canada’s current leadership, it is his understanding she did not meet the selection criteria.

Findlay says she’s now taken her career into her own hands and is performing better than ever because of it — she also gets to compete and train alongside her boyfriend, fellow triathlete Eric Lagerstrom.

This most recent win has buoyed Findlay’s belief in herself, saying she feels like she can compete for another decade if her body allows.

It’s a remarkable turnaround years after many had written her off.

“I want to be a role model for kids and for people who are going through tough times,” she said. “I don’t take it for granted. Your body can only do this for so long. And then when I have a day like I did the other day I want to do this forever.”

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Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, driving force of Big Red Machine, dies at 77

Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who became the sparkplug of the Big Red Machine and the prototype for baseball’s artificial turf era, has died. He was 77.

He died at his home Sunday in Danville, California, family spokesman James Davis said in statement Monday. Morgan was suffering from a nerve condition, a form of polyneuropathy.

Morgan’s death marked the latest among major league greats this year: Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Al Kaline.

Morgan was a two-time NL Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves. A 5-foot-7 dynamo known for flapping his left elbow at the plate, Little Joe could hit a home run, steal a base and disrupt any game with his daring.

Most of all, he completed Cincinnati’s two-time World Series championship team, driving a club featuring the likes of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez to back-to-back titles.

Morgan’s tiebreaking single with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7 in 1975 gave the Reds the crown in a classic matchup with Boston, and he spurred a four-game sweep of the Yankees the next season.

Morgan was the league’s MVP both years. And his Hall of Fame teammates and manager readily acknowledged he was the one that got it all started.

The smallest cog in the Big Red Machine was its most valuable piece, and easily a first-ballot pick for Cooperstown.

“He was just a good major league player when it didn’t mean anything,” former Reds and Tigers skipper Sparky Anderson once said. “But when it meant something, he was a Hall of Famer.”

In a 22-year career through 1984, Morgan scored 1,650 runs, stole 689 bases, hit 268 homers and batted .271. But those stats hardly reflected the force created on the field by the lefty-swinging No. 8.

Revolutionized the game

Confident and cocky, he also was copied. His habit of flapping his back elbow as a way to keep it high when hitting was imitated by many a Little Leaguer in Cincinnati and beyond.

“Joe wasn’t just the best second baseman in baseball history,” Bench said. “He was the best player I ever saw and one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

Health issues had slowed down Morgan in recent years. Knee surgery forced him to use a cane when he went onto the field at Great American Ball Park before the 2015 All-Star Game and he later needed a bone marrow transplant for an illness.

In his prime, Morgan helped to revolutionize the game with his quickness and many talents, especially once he hit the turf at Riverfront Stadium.

“Packed unusual power into his extraordinarily quick 150-lb. fireplug frame,” he was praised on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Morgan got his start with Houston in 1963, when the team was called the .45s and still played on grass. Once he became a full-time player in 1965 when the club became the Astros and moved into the Astrodome, he began to provide a glimpse of what speedy, multi-skilled players could do on the new kind of turf.

The Reds had already built a formidable team, but they came up short in 1970, losing to Baltimore in the World Series. Cincinnati made a shocking trade for Morgan after the 1971 season, giving up slugger Lee May and All-Star second baseman Tommy Helms in an eight-player swap.

Dominant 2nd baseman

Morgan turned out to be exactly what the Reds needed to take the next step.

“Joe fit in with the rest of us like the missing link in the puzzle,” Rose once said.

Rose was the dashing singles hitter, on his way to becoming the game’s career hits leader. Bench supplied the power. Perez was the clutch hitter. And Morgan did a bit of everything, slashing hits and stealing bases whenever needed.

Morgan got plenty of chances, too. Skilled at drawing walks, and helped by a small strike zone, he led the NL in on-base percentage in four of his first five years with the Reds, and finished with a career mark of .392.

“That’s when the game went to more speed,” Rose said. “There were guys who did more, but Joe stole bases when everyone at the park knew he would. He didn’t waste steals. He made them count. Joe probably could have stolen more. Lots of guys just steal to run up the numbers, and then they can’t when it counts to win the game. Joe made them count.”

Morgan scored a major league-leading 122 runs in his first season with the Reds and they reached the 1972 World Series, where they lost in seven games to Oakland.

The two championship seasons were his finest, making him the dominant second baseman of his time — many rated him as the greatest ever to play the position.

Morgan hit .327 with 17 homers, 94 RBIs and 67 stolen bases in 1975, then followed with a .320 average, 27 homers, 111 RBIs and 60 steals the next year. He was only the fifth second baseman in the NL to drive in more than 100 runs and also led the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 1976.

‘Big Red Machine’ greats (L-R) Pete Rose, Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench walk on the field prior to the 86th MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

A series of injuries in the late 1970s diminished Morgan’s production — the years of throwing his body around on the turf had taken a toll. The Reds decided to dismantle the Big Red Machine, prompting Morgan to also leave.

He spent the 1980 season with Houston, helping the Astros to a NL West title. He played two seasons with San Francisco, and later was reunited with Rose and Perez in Philadelphia.

Morgan hit two home runs in the 1983 World Series as the Phillies lost in five games to Baltimore, and tripled in his final at-bat.

Morgan finished as a career .182 hitter in 50 post-season games. He played in 11 different series and batted over .273 in just one of them, a stat that surprises many considering his big-game reputation.

‘He did it all’

Raised in Oakland, Morgan returned to the Bay Area and played the 1984 season with the Athletics before retiring.

Morgan set the NL record for games played at second, ranked among the career leaders in walks and was an All-Star in every one of his years with the Reds.

After his playing career, he spent years as an announcer for the Reds, Giants and A’s, along with ESPN, NBC, ABC and CBS. He was on the board of the Hall of Fame and the Baseball Assistance Team.

Morgan was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1990. The Reds also inducted him into their Hall of Fame and retired his number.

“He did it all, and he did it all the time,” said Bench, the first member of the Big Red Machine to enter the Hall. “I always thought that Joe was the best player I ever played with, and that takes in a lot of ground.”

Morgan recognized his place on one of baseball’s all-time greatest teams.

“Bench probably had the most raw baseball ability of any of us,” Morgan said before his Hall of Fame induction. “Pete obviously had the most determination to make himself the player he was. Perez was the unsung hero. I guess I was just a guy who could do a lot of things.”

He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Theresa; twin daughters Kelly and Ashley; and daughters Lisa and Angela from his first marriage to Gloria Morgan.

Funeral details are not yet set.

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White House task force strikes different tones as U.S. sees all-time high in new COVID-19 cases

There was no presidential appearance and no White House backdrop Friday when the U.S. government’s coronavirus task force briefed the public for the first time since April — in keeping with an administration effort to show it is paying attention to the latest spike in cases but is not on a wartime footing that should keep the country from reopening the economy.

The briefing at the Department of Health and Human Services was held as the number of confirmed new coronavirus infections per day in the U.S. soared to an all-time high of 40,000 — higher even than during the deadliest stretch in April and May.

In light of the new surge, task force briefers chose their words carefully to update the public about COVID-19, which has become both a public health and political issue.

Vice-President Mike Pence had the most delicate line to walk. He acknowledged a surge in new cases across the South and West, while backing the president’s desire to get the economy up and running without mentioning that it will also help prospects for reelection.

“As we see new cases rising, and we’re tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to the place that we were two months ago — in a time of great losses and a great hardship on the American people,” Pence said.

WATCH | Pence says U.S. in a ‘much better place’ than 2 months ago:

Crediting President Donald Trump and the American people, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence says that, despite rising COVID-19 case numbers, the U.S. is in better shape now than it was in April. 0:59

But the vice-president also took note of positive job numbers and added: “The reality is we’re in a much better place.”

Unbound by politics, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, sounded a more cautionary tone.

“As you can see, we are facing a serious problem in certain areas,” Fauci said.

But he also was careful not to blame the recent spike on gatherings where people haven’t worn face masks or adhered to social distancing guidelines.

WATCH | Fauci appeals to young people to avoid risks of getting COVID-19:

The top U.S. infectious disease specialist called on young people to accept ‘societal responsibility’  amid a surge of positive tests for coronavirus. 1:03

Pence deftly sidestepped pointed questions about the apparent dissonance between the administration’s admonitions that Americans heed the guidance of local officials and Trump’s decision to hold a political rally last week in Tulsa, Okla., over the objection of health officials.

And during a Trump event in Arizona on Tuesday, thousands of young attendees violated Phoenix’s mandate to wear face masks.

Insisting that Trump was “taking proper steps,” Pence invoked the constitutional protection of free speech, saying, “we still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process.”

Growing anxiety

The White House over the last two months all but eliminated coronavirus task force briefings and sharply curtailed public appearances by its medical experts as Trump shifted his focus to getting the country moving again.

The return of the briefing was a sign that the administration knows it can’t ignore growing anxiety over the increased number of cases as governors in some states pause or delay reopening.

But the briefings are not expected to come back with the same daily frequency. And it’s no coincidence, officials said, that Friday’s briefing took place at the Department of Health and Human Services rather than at the White House. The president is still dead-set on cheerleading an economic resurgence even in the face of the spike in infections.

Pence walks off the stage as other members of the White House coronavirus task force look on in Washington on Friday. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

Pence announced that 16 states were seeing worrisome increases — up from 12 states on Wednesday. He said there still is work to do, but that it was important to reflect on how much the federal and state governments and health care workers have done to respond to the pandemic.

“This moment in the coronavirus pandemic is different” from the grim days when New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Orleans struggled under the weight of the outbreak, he said.

America has since accelerated testing to 500,000 tests a day, which has contributed to the increase in reported new cases, Pence said.

WATCH| Houston hospitals ‘weeks’ away from limit:

Health care officials in Houston say most hospitals in the city are operating with 90 per cent of intensive care unit beds occupied. 1:47

He plans to travel next week to Texas, Arizona and Florida; the previously scheduled trips to these COVID-19 hot spots were initially to be more political in nature, but will now include greater focus on the virus. Pence said Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force co-ordinator, will accompany him to Texas and Arizona.

“I just encourage every American to continue to pray,” Pence said in closing. “Pray for all the families that have lost loved ones. Pray for our health care workers on the front lines. And just continue to pray that, by God’s grace, every single day we’ll each do our part to heal our land.”

Back at the White House, Trump held a jobs-focused event in the East Room and offered this can-do message:

“We have a little work to do and we’ll get it done. We’re having some very good numbers coming out in terms of the comeback, the comeback of our nation and I think it’s going very rapidly and it’s going to be very good.”

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